Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Django Unchained

Here then is one of the shameful secrets of my film nerd-dom (that’s some weird English right there): I don’t always like Tarantino. Now, don’t get me wrong, I never dislike him (Deathproof being the notable exception for being as boring as tar) but I occasionally have issues with him. But, issues aside, he typically makes movies that are at least good and a couple movies, including his last film, have been actually great.

Based on this and 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, he intends to keep moving backwards in time (anything that keeps him from making his increasingly tiresome references to 70’s movies is good with me, though he still manages to stick one in) but Django Unchained is also a weirdly different breed from his other movies. The plot, or rather the setup, is very straightforward. A slave, the titular Django, is bought by a bounty hunter who needs his help to track down a group of criminals, on the promise of his freedom and the eventual rescue of his wife.

Based on that premise, and the fact that Tarantino is directing, what kind of movie are you expecting? A cheesy, over the top, gory, western, with maybe some spoof elements in place? Well that movie is there, yes, but it’s also occupying the same space as a weirdly sincere attempt to portray slavery as it was, with no sugar coating or excuses. And it’s from this place that the movie seems to get not only all of its weaknesses but a good portion of its strengths. But we’ll talk about that in a moment.

The other place it gets its strengths from is the acting. Jamie Foxx is quite good in the title role, but we knew he was good, and his character is a little too one dimensional for it to really be the best in the movie (he’s playing what amounts to a well written action hero, so he’s going to be a bit straightforward). Christoph Waltz is a little more interesting, but like the lead he’s a little too straightforward to be really Oscar caliber, but he’s still playing it incredibly. No, the real heavy acting is from Leonardo DiCaprio, in a villainous role that he digs into with admirable gusto, bring brilliant nuance to a role that could easily be a one dimensional villain. He's playing a character who thinks he's charismatic and interesting, but is actually just...vile, and the way his character works and acts throughout the second and third act is incredible. Second consideration must also go to Samuel L. Jackson as…well I don’t want to spoil it, but trust me he’s great.

The direction is, naturally, rather excellent, as Tarantino has long been settled into his directorial style and ability. The writing is also good, and the usual issue Tarantino has about all of the characters having the same voice appears to have relaxed slightly. The action sequences, while sparse, are well put together and exciting.

Of course it’s in the movie’s frank and brutal (and therefore accurate) treatment of slavery that it gets a lot of its power. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of Django’s character comes from his reaction to the ridiculously brutal things done to slaves, both his anger and, during his attempts to infiltrate plantations, his attempts to hide his anger. But it’s also where the movie gets it’s only major failing, in it’s occasionally schitzophrenic tone. A lot, and I mean a lot, of the early violence the main characters inflict, is played for laughs, to the point where I at first thought it was going to be a straight ahead comedy for the first half hour. This is all violently at odds with the darker tone of the slavery scenes, and the mood can cause whiplash occasionally.

There’s also some minor issues with the pacing, mostly toward the end, but then pacing and tonal issues are pretty much par for the course, and it doesn’t stop the movie from being excellently made, wildly entertaining and a trip and a half to watch. If you haven’t seen The Hobbit yet, you definitely need to hit this movie up, it’s worth it.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and can he use Lannister as a synonym for incest? Cuz he think Leo’s character was Lannistering his sister.

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